One of the most persistent myths about Windows is that you need to reinstall the operating system regularly to keep it running at top performance. Let's take a look at the real problem and how to fix it.
Today we're talking about the myth that Windows slows down over time, and how to solve the problem. The reality is that Windows doesn't slow down if you just take care of your PC a little more. Follow these procedures, and you won't have to wonder if spending hours backing up data, installing from disc, and re-installing your essential applications is really necessary.
What Does Slow Windows Down Over Time?
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that your Windows PC will never slow down — because for many people, they almost always do. What actually slows your PC down are too many poorly written applications that stay resident in memory and waste CPU cycles, having too many badly written low-level applications that hook into Windows, or running more than one antivirus application at a time. And of course, if you've run your PC's hard drive out of space, you can hardly blame Windows for that.
If you aren't getting the picture, the problem is usually the person behind the keyboard that installed too many junk applications in the first place. More gently put, it's often that (very well-meaning) person's gradual easing of their safeguards and cleaning regimens as time goes by.
Stop Installing Junk Applications
Installing software should be thought of like feeding your PC. If you constantly feed your PC garbage apps, it's going to get sick and won't be able to run fast anymore. These poorly written applications clutter your drive with unnecessary DLL files, add always-resident Windows services when they don't need to, bloat up your registry, and add useless icons to your system tray that waste even more memory and CPU cycles. Usually you can get away with using a few terrible applications, but as you continue to install more and more of them, your PC will slow down to a crawl.
Be Smarter About What You Do Install
We feature and recommend a lot of software applications around here, but you should keep in mind that we aren't trying to tell you to install every single one of them at the same time-just install the applications that you actually need and you'll generally prevent the dreaded format and reinstall.
Here's a few tips to help you know what applications you should be careful with:
- Apps that function as an Explorer plug-in, because they directly hook into the shell and any problem will make your entire PC slow or in the worst case, crash repeatedly.
- Antivirus applications are notorious for slowing your PC down, and you should never, ever, ever use more than one real-time antivirus application at a time. We recommend Microsoft Security Essentials as a free, fast and awesome antivirus tool.
- Anything that says it will "Speed Up Your PC" or "Optimise Your RAM" will most likely slow it down, or best case, do nothing at all. Avoid these like the plague.
- Make sure to install official system drivers from the manufacturer website. Drivers have a huge impact on performance, and you want to have stable, updated drivers.
- Registry cleaners are a mixed bag, and really aren't going to speed up your PC in most cases. The biggest problem, however, is that too many of the commercial registry cleaners set themselves to run at startup in the system tray, wasting your memory and CPU cycles.
- You should strongly consider the idea of using portable applications wherever possible, since their self-contained nature means they won't clutter up the rest of your PC with things you don't need.
Keep Your Computer Clean And Trim
Once you've rid yourself of your junk application habit and resolved to only use healthy, useful applications, you'll want to make sure to keep your PC clean of any remaining clutter that doesn't need to be there. You can set up a shortcut to manually run CCleaner silently with the push of a button, but your best bet is to set up CCleaner to run automatically on a schedule, so you don't have to remember to do it.
Since CCleaner is only going to clean up temporary files, you'll still need a good solution for keeping the rest of your PC clean-and Lifehacker's own Belvedere can help you automate your self-cleaning PC or automatically clean up your download folder.
With all of this automated file deletion going on, your hard drive is likely to get a bit fragmented. If you're already running Windows 7 or Vista, automatic defrag comes out of the box and probably shouldn't be messed with, but Windows XP users will need to use Windows Tasks to setup a schedule and automatically defrag their drives.
Use A Virtual Machine Or Sandbox To Test Software
If you still want to test out all of the latest software, including apps that look a bit rough around the edges, your best bet is to use a virtual machine to test out anything before putting it onto your primary operating system. You can install all of your software in an XP or Windows 7 VM just like it was a real PC, and with the latest VMWare player releases, you can even enable Windows Aero in a guest VM. If you are new to the idea and need some more help, you should check out our beginner's guide to creating virtual machines in VirtualBox, or Windows 7 users can check out our guide to using XP Mode. If you don't want to go the virtual machine route, Windows XP and Vista users can alternatively use Windows SteadyState to protect their PC and roll back all of the changes on a reboot.
So what about you? Do you always take the reinstall route, or have you devised your own best maintenance practices? Share your experience in the comments.